MANILA, Philippines – Our lawmakers love surprises, obviously.
They pulled a surprise when they impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona on Dec. 12, 2011. They pulled a surprise again on Tuesday, February 28, when lead prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr. told the court that they had just presented their last witness and are dropping the rest of the charges.
The House panel will make the formal offer to rest their case on Wednesday, February 29, after the defense panel is finished cross-examining its last witness.
The prosecution panel made the final decision Monday night, February 27. “It was unanimous decision last night. The question of course was just the timing. We felt it is best to do it now,” said deputy speaker and prosecution spokesperson Lorenzo Tañada.
The final straw was the press conference of SC spokesperson Midas Marquez earlier on Tuesday to announce that the February 14 SC resolution banning SC justices to testify without en banc approval also covers the court employees.
“For all the other articles, our evidence or witnesses will have to come from the Supreme Court. The SC has stonewalled all the other articles,” said deputy lead prosecutor Rodolfo Fariñas.
The prosecution panel likened the SC resolution to former President Arroyo’s Executive Order 464, which banned executive officials from testifying without Malacañang’s approval.
Although it is resting its case, the prosecution panel will also make a manifestation on Wednesday that it is not giving up on the testimony of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ma Lourdes Sereno and the disclosure of Corona’s dollar accounts. Prosecutor Neri Colmenares had challenged the Senate to uphold the power of the impeachment court against Supreme Court rulings barring the testimony of Justices without en banc approval and the disclosure of dollar accounts.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said the prosecution took a risk in that decision.
“It’s their judgment call. We are ready to hear all articles. If they are withdrawing 5 and it will shorten the entire proceedings, that’s okay. But they will have to live with the outcome. Win or lose, they will have to live with the outcome,” said Pimentel.
“We’re excited to hear the defense’s story,” Pimentel added.
Unlike regular days, not too many members of the House were present when the prosecutors announced their decision. The VIP gallery, which is usually packed with members of the House, was almost empty.
Quimbo said the surprise ending is part of their strategy. “While we had decided early on that we are not going to present the other articles of impeachment. Importante din sa amin na hindi rin malaman ng depensa para maghanda sila para sa iba’t ibang bagay,” he said.
Cuevas: What evidence?
Defense counsel Serafin Cuevas said they were not threatened by the prosecution’s announcement on Tuesday, however.
“We had long been hearing that they are dropping charges. Pero hindi namin alam kung kelan,” Cuevas said.
Cuevas also dismissed the prosecution’s claim that Article 2 is a strong case against Corona.
“What bank accounts and properties? They have not yet offered [them yet as evidence]. They’ll have to formally offer that. We will be allowed to object and then the court will make a ruling. Kung disallowed lahat yun, e di balewala ang ebidensya nila,” said Cuevas.
The defense panel filed on Monday a motion asking the court to disregard the bank accounts of Corona on the basis that it was obtained illegally. They cited testimonies of PSBank officials declaring prosecution’s photocopy of Corona’s bank records as “fake” or “spurious.”
But Fariñas dismissed the motion. They are not threatened, he said.
Fariñas said it’s the time for Corona to fulfill his promise that he will open his bank accounts. The Senate impeachment court respected SC’s ruling that disallows the disclosure of Corona’s dollar accounts.
“The Chief Justices said he will open his account s in due time. Siguro this is due time now. When their turn to present evidence comes and he still doesn’t open his accounts, malalaman natin na nambobola pala sila,” said Fariñas.
Although the prosecution panel has rested its case, Tupas said there’s more work to be done.
Tupas said they are now preparing for the defense panel’s presentation of evidence to disprove their allegations.
“We’re not yet happy because we should have a conviction verdict. We still have a job to do during the presentation of defense,” he said.
“We are preparing right now. Me, the deputy lead prosecutor, and our senior lawyers are preparing already for cross examination. We are studying list of witness and reviewing our rules,” Tupas said. – Rappler.com